The magnitude 9.0 earthquake that struck Japan on the afternoon of March 11th triggered the largest tsunami to hit the islands in over a thousand years, causing over $200 billion in damage, leaving almost 500,000 people homeless, and killing over 15,000. Nearly 5,000 people are still missing and will probably never be accounted for.
Much of the damage and loss of life could have been avoided if the warnings of the ancestors had been heeded. According to news articles published in April, the coastline of Japan is dotted with what are known as tsunami stones—large upright edifices as old as six hundred years erected at the high water mark of previous tsunamis and carved by survivors with admonishments to their descendants to seek higher ground after an earthquake and to not build below the point where the stones were placed. They were a way to tell those who were yet to be born about their experience with a natural calamity. However, in most every location, people disregarded the warnings of the ancestors and put their faith in technology, believing that sophisticated flood walls would protect them. Sadly, this did not happen.
It made me think about the warnings of our own ancestors and the ways in which they have been recorded: fairy tales collected by the brothers Grimm—Hansel & Gretel, Cinderella; Hebrew and Christian Scripture—The Ten Commandments (also carved in stone), the Sermon on the Mount; Greek plays—Medea, Antigone; Shakespeare—King Lear, Macbeth; folk wisdom—“It’s better to bend than break.”, “Take what you get until you get what you want;” visual arts—Picasso’s anti-war painting, Guernica; and finally, songs and hymns—When Johnny Comes Marching Home, Abide With Me.
These various art forms are vehicles for wisdom that, if listened to and heeded, would save us, our communities, and our nations an enormous amount of suffering. But do we pay attention to them and thus know when to “seek higher ground?” Often we do, but much of the time we do not. But why don’t we? I believe it’s human nature to not listen. Also, in our overwrought contemporary world we have shut out the voices of wisdom and focus more narrowly on our own interests and those things which are right in front of us.
Perhaps the noise of present day life drowns out the voices of the ancestors who are pleading with us to live right and justly with one another and with the world. Maybe, like the Japanese, we believe that technology and science will safeguard us against disaster. Perhaps we have become so wrapped up in our own egos and individuality we feel that the lessons of history and our ancestors do not apply to us; we narcissistically deny what has been the experience of humanity for thousands of years.
How much better if we could once again honor our ancestors by acknowledging the wisdom that has been passed to us so that we do not get washed out to sea.
Peace Be With You.
Categories: Theological Reflections